KubotaoftheOzarks

Local farm-to-school training will bring produce to the classroom and lunchroom

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SPRINGFIELD – Each elementary school principal in Springfield Public Schools (SPS) has now identified a teacher as a “garden champion” for the building. On Sept. 8, the selected teachers will attend “Farm 2 School” training to equip them with the skills needed to successfully teach in an outdoor classroom. Training is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Kay Johnson, a Master Garden member from Springfield, volunteers his talents at the new rooftop garden atop Hickory Hills School, one of the first in Springfield to incorporate gardening into the curriculum, and the harvest into the menu. He also volunteers at the Demonstration Garden planted each year at the Springfield Botanical Gardens.

Kay Johnson, a Master Garden member from Springfield, volunteers his talents at the new rooftop garden atop Hickory Hills School, one of the first in Springfield to incorporate gardening into the curriculum, and the harvest into the menu. He also volunteers at the Demonstration Garden planted each year at the Springfield Botanical Gardens.Sept. 8 at the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, 2400 S. Scenic Avenue., Springfield.

“We are working with educators from MU Extension, Springfield-Greene County Health Department and Community Partnership to empower teachers to use their existing school garden as an outdoor classroom or to explore other ways to teach kids how to connect with their food,” said Stephanie Smith, Farm to School Coordinator for SPS.

Springfield schools incorporate local produce

A USDA Farm-to-School grant is enabling Springfield to participate in a farm-to-school program to incorporate fresh, local produce into school meal programs, according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“The goals are to improve student health by providing a variety of fresh, nutritious food options; provide hands-on nutrition education based on local food systems, and support the local economy by providing connections with community farms,” says Duitsman.

Along with program partners, SPS has been working since January 2016 to implement the procurement of local food to serve in Delaware, Robberson, Jeffries and Rountree Elementary schools, as well as Hickory Hills K-8 School.

“Across the district, schools are involved with gardening programs where students learn about planting, tending, and harvesting their own food. Additional education is offered to connect this experience to food tastings, field trips, and nutrition lessons about the many health benefits of whole foods,” Duitsman explains.

MU Extension is partnering with the SPS Farm-to-School team on procurement, training, in-school and gardening education. The Greene County MU Extension office works with schools, farmers, vendors and communities to improve access to fresh, flavorful local food.

Farm-to-school connects classrooms to farmers
The Farm-to-School program provides meaningful connections between local farms and classrooms, school lunchrooms, and from students to foodservice directors, teachers, and school staff. Best of all, research shows that Farm-to-School programs work.

“Farm-to-School programs increase student’s consumption of fruits and vegetables,” says Duitsman, who serves on the board of Friends of the Garden. “They increase student’s understanding of sustainable agriculture and growing cycles, and students are better able to identify local produce and seasonality of produce.”

Students at schools with farm-to-school programs show an improved attitude toward eating healthy, and an increased ability to select healthy foods at supermarkets. Participation in school meal programs increases by an average of 9.3 percent.

Positive benefits of Farm-to-School initiatives don’t stop with the students. Research also shows that teachers buy school lunch more often, and become more conscious of healthy dietary behaviors. Food service staff members become more interested in developing seasonal recipes and new uses for local foods.

“Farmers report that Farm-to-School programs provide opportunities for improved business and improve cooperation between schools, farms, and the community food system,” says Duitsman.

Duitsman’s work with University of Missouri Extension is part of the Voices for Food grant project supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-01823 from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems Program.

For more information, contact Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County at (417) 881-8909 or by email at duitsmanp@missouri.edu. Information is also available online Extension.Missouri.edu.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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